Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love, and Death in the Kitchen
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., May 29, 2009
Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love, and Death in the Kitchenby Jason Sheehan Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 368 pp., $26
It was bound to happen. After the publication of Kitchen Confidential and Anthony Bourdain's meteoric rise from self-described journeyman chef/heroin addict to bestselling author and traveling TV host, it comes as no surprise that a new generation would be inspired to write about following Bourdain's often-dissipated career path. Jason Sheehan is one of those guys. In Cooking Dirty, Sheehan chronicles his alcohol-soaked and drug-fueled journey from dishwasher in a Rochester, N.Y., pizza joint to jobs as line cook, bartender, "wheel man," and sous chef at a succession of diners, Waffle Houses, Chinese restaurants, grocery store delis, and other midlevel eateries to his current career as a restaurant critic for Denver alternative weekly Westworld.
To Sheehan's credit, he demonstrates some wit and knows how to weave a good story while still being brutally honest about himself – "a blue-collar, rust belt diner kid, a beans-and-weenies, steak-and-potatoes simpleton" at the beginning of his cooking career.
The two best laughs I had involved Sheehan's description of surreptitious purchases of Gourmet magazine as a high school kid and his one failed attempt to "translate the language of baking into cook-ese" ("like trying to teach long division to a hamster"). While many of Sheehan's harrowing restaurant tales resonated with me, his career transition to food writer is given rather short shrift. I found I was much more curious about that than I was about the umpteenth drug-and-alcohol-impaired job loss or $100 cross-country road trip.
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